Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Pomona Dean Refuses to Apologize -- Blames CMC

Date: Tue, 10 Mar 2009 19:11:42 -0700
From: Miriam.Feldblum@pomona.edu
Subject: [ALL_STUDENTS] Resolution of February 19th Event
To: ALL_STUDENTS@LISTSERV.POMONA.EDU

Dear Students,

I am writing to provide you with information concerning the final resolution of the February 19th incident that took place at the Women’s Union. I also want to take this opportunity to address some of the questions I have received about how we arrived at our decisions, what lessons we can learn from this, and discuss some of the excellent suggestions from students in response to the call for a forum.

As I noted in my last email, as soon as the event was reported to us, my office began gathering information from our students who were present at the event, and we immediately turned to the CMC Dean of Students office so that they could gather information from their students. We gave CMC the names of the CMC students who were identified, and forwarded the account of the event we received; as explained to the CMC administrators, a primary concern was that their students videotaped at least a portion of the event without the consent of our students and continued even when they were asked to desist. At that same time, CMC and Pomona began a discussion of response options.

When an incident takes place at Pomona involving non-Pomona Claremont College students, our usual procedure is for the home campus of the students in question to talk with those students to gather information and offer their own perspective on the incident. Sometimes, this is the start of a process which will lead to a formal judicial process on the student’s home campus. We chose not to seek that route in this situation; while the students’ reported behavior broke the trust that we expect of one another as members of a community (especially in a place such as the WU and at an event where students were coming to share personal perspectives and experiences concerning abortion) we did not believe that the behavior neatly fell under the student code or other policies. Instead, the reported actions violated community trust, and as reported, potentially created safety concerns for our students, consequences that prompted us to consider a ban, especially as it related to the CMC student videotaping the event.

As Dean of Students, my top priority is the safety and wellbeing of our students. The CMC students’ actions included the act of videotaping which could very well have captured the images of all the participants in the room, exacerbated by concerns that the names and contact information of the participants were copied from the sign-in sheet. Further, according to the information we had at the time, the student did not stop videotaping when the speaker and other students repeatedly asked him to do so. The uncertainties about the manner and intent of the videotaping, and concerns that names and contact information had been captured, all resulted in a highly disturbing and disruptive situation for the student participants.

From February 20 through March 5th, my office was in continual contact with CMC. The information they gave us, at the time and following their own inquiry, was consistent with the information that was reported to our office. CMC supported the ban on the cameraman, and recommended that we ban a second student. We took their recommendation into consideration, and on March 3rd delivered letters to CMC for the two students notifying them that they were restricted from Pomona campus for all non-academic related activities.

Over this past weekend, I worked with the CMC staff, who reinitiated their efforts to gather information. The CMC Dean of Students and I met with the two students who had received the letters and viewed the videotape. Both CMC and Pomona now know that the speaker and other participants repeatedly told the CMC students that they had not given their consent to be videotaped, and that the CMC students did not stop videotaping even after hearing those statements. But, when the speaker finally explicitly asked the students to stop taping, the students complied.

There appears to have been a misunderstanding in this regard, as statements such as “I have not given you consent to videotape me,” often imply a request to desist such videotaping. That is how those statements were meant by the speaker and the students. We also recognize that others may not hear those statements as a request to stop videotaping. The CMC students did state that part of their purpose of videotaping the event was to show the tape to other audiences; however, the videotape itself shows only the speaker from Planned Parenthood, and not the other participants. Both CMC students have stated to me that they did not take down names or contact information of the other participants, nor did they intend to intimidate the students through their actions. Further, the videotape shows that while a series of questions asked by the CMC students may have interrupted the flow of conversation, they were not disruptive nor did they chill the free expression of ideas.

Based upon this additional information, we decided that the best course would be to rescind the letters. While the secretive manner in which the videotaping was performed was inappropriate and disrespectful, it did not rise to the level of justification for a ban given the additional context and clarification we later received. I believe that we should always be willing to listen and consider new information in any situation, and be prepared to change a decision because it is the right thing to do.

This situation has illuminated for us the need to reexamine our recording policy to see if it should be clarified or strengthened. We also will work with the other Colleges to clarify the processes we each employ when we issue bans, and the variety of reasons for which bans are issued. At this point, there is no written consortium policy regarding bans, and a written policy would be helpful. Finally, a lesson for us is that our administrative procedure should be revised so that even more specific information is obtained from the other campus in a situation of this kind, possibly including the presence of a Pomona dean when the other College’s dean questions the students involved in an incident.

Finally, in my last message, I suggested that we host a forum on abortion. A number of students, including students from the WU, VOX, and PSU, wisely suggested that we instead hold a forum on the questions and tensions that arise from our dual commitments – our commitment to providing safe, supportive spaces on campus for students to engage in respectful, personal, and challenging dialogue without fear of reprisal and our commitment to robust, open free speech and other student rights. What rights do student organizers have when they hold events that are open to everyone? What are our expectations as a community regarding respectful dialogue and respect for one another? What are our expectations and responsibilities in upholding free speech and supporting a wide diversity of views? I think these are all compelling and important questions for us as a community to consider. So, I would now like to invite you if you are interested in working on this forum to contact Dean Mooko. We will still consider hosting a forum on abortion during next semester.

In closing, I want to reiterate my appreciation to all the students who provided their comments and perspectives on this situation.

Best wishes,

Dean Feldblum

Miriam Feldblum
Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students
Professor of Politics
101 Alexander Hall
Pomona College

550 N. College Ave.
Claremont, CA 91711
Email: miriam.feldblum@pomona.edu
Tel: 909-621-8017
Fax: 909-607-7288


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14 comments:

David Daleiden said...

"Finally, in my last message, I suggested that we host a forum on abortion. A number of students, including students from the WU, VOX, and PSU, wisely suggested that we instead hold a forum on the questions and tensions that arise from our dual commitments"

Of course, VOX, "Voices for Planned Parenthood," does not want to have an open forum on abortion in which alternate views could be expressed. They are afraid to defend their parent organization to the public--and understandably so.

So the silencing continues, ban or no ban. Pomona, Planned Parenthood, and VOX believe we can talk openly and think critically about any issue--except abortion.

Theresa said...

To be fair, a number of commentors on here mentioned thoughts along similar lines. I don't see why we can't hold both, though...

kevingvance said...

Why is a university committed to "safe spaces"? If "safe space" refers to physical safety, it seems like it's the duty of every college to try to make the entire campus as physically safe as possible. If "safe space" refers to non-physical safety, I don't understand why there would be a tension between a commitment to speech and a commitment to protecting people from suffering emotional harm. There is no tension there. At a college like this, speech will only be "free" so long as it doesn't make anyone else feel bad. It's like saying, "You're free to say anything you'd like, so long as you're pretty sure everyone agrees with you and you don't think anyone will be uncomfortable with what you say." I don't understand why a supposedly non-sectarian private college would ever need to restrict speech more than the constitution does everywhere else. Unless, of course, there's an underlying dogma to the mission of Pomona College.

Jamie said...

I would just like to point out that Dean Feldblum plans to work with CMC to have a forum on abortion next semester, but I think her point is that she simply felt that a forum on safe space and free speech was more appropriate this semester in light of this whole controversy.

Anonymous said...

As a female CMC student who supports the mission of Planned Parenthood I am deeply concerned about the representative they sent to Pomona. From watching the video she does not seem capable of having an open conversation about issues related to her work. I am so glad that Kyle and David's ban was removed. I also agree with David's post above that a conversation should be promoted that would truly raise awareness about "abortion"; both pro and anti-abortion. I hope that someone has written a letter to Planned Parenthood about the quality of its employees; I certainly plan to!

kevingvance said...

How can you have a free forum about free speech if the protection of speech isn't guaranteed?

Anonymous said...

When you do respond to Dean Feldblum, please reiterate that she never mentioned:

1) The fact that WU lied about David and Kyle. That they lied about David and Kyle disrupting, intimidating, and what not the event.

2) That Dean Holmes lied about David and Kyle violating Pomona College policy. Essentially, PO's DoS has changed their argument from a legal argument -- by college and state -- to an ethical one. She admits that there is no policy and that Dean Holmes wrongfully threatened David and Kyle with legal action.

3) That PO and some at CMC were hasty, biased, in banning David and Kyle. That their decision was rescinded not because new evidence was presented as her letter makes it seem, but because they finally saw the evidence on both sides as they ought to have.

4) That Dean Holmes had no authority to issue such a ban and acted without the DoS, DoF's permission. That the letter was not signed by DoS.

5) That David and Kyle's wrongful treatment and damaged reputation deserve an apology.

6) That Dean Holmes has a significant conflict of interest when issuing bans or some such thing for conflicts involving the WU.

7) That David and Kyle were fully within their right and did nothing unethical by filming an awareness week session. The very fact that WU lied to Pomona's Dean of Women, and that she in turn hastily abused her power proves that we should tape all things at Pomona.

Anonymous said...

Also, no club or event that receives school funding should be allowed to exclude a majority of the student body. If you get school money, it's because your service benefits the entire student body. You can't deny access to some simply because they disagree with you.

That's not an abortion awareness week, it's an abortion redundancy week.

Theresa said...

Anonymous -

I agree with most of your points, but I need to clarify with #4. The associate deans can, and do, ban subjects. Typically, whichever dean is most closely affiliated with the issue at hand will handle the ban. (If the bannable offense originated at a party, Dean Gerard's office usually will handle, etc. Since the "originating offense," as it were, originated at an event under Dean Holmes' realm as Dean of Women, she was the one to handle the ban. It's not always (or even necessarily usually) issued by the head Dean of Students.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Theresa,

I was under the impression that the 5C's did not have an explicit policy on banning other students. I think Feldblum mentioned this in the email. Given this constraint, you'd think it was appropriate for Associate Deans to run bans without due process or seeing the evidence through the head dean of students.

Anonymous said...

Quick question, Charles: how do you get around Feldblum's "confidentiality notice" at the bottom of each message? Do you just ignore it and post anyway, and what's your reasoning behind doing that? Just curious.

Although the handling of this situation has been haphazard at best, I still think Feldblum is right to first weigh Pomona's idea of "safe space" against the right to freely express political views. Otherwise, when (or if) we have an abortion debate in the fall there will be no actual dialogue or disagreement.

Theresa said...

Last Anonymous - While a commitment to providing a safe space is admirable, it just didn't go off well here. If her concern was providing a safe space for the students who felt threatened while the full story was being gathered, a temporary injunction could have been issued, and honestly probably would have gone over a whole lot better. (Plus, then there would have been an indication that yes, someone was looking into the facts of the matter.) Instead, the bans were meant to be immediate and extend until each student's respective graduation date. That's just poor handling.

Anonymous said...

aaaaaaah!

Charles, put this below the Leave your Comment paragraph, or write this with every post that involves copy pasting a forwarded email:

The Confidentiality Notice Has NO LEGAL STANDING. It's a request, not a legal contract or agreement. You break no law, contract, agreement, or law by forwarding, eating, or smoking that email.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the clarification on the confidentiality thing. I was just wondering how that worked, since her language did seem legalistic and I've seen those emails reprinted in several publications.

As for the rest of my post, I was referring to Pomona's larger commitment to providing a "safe space" for students; not this specific instance. This extent of this "safe space" needs to be laid out explicitly before we have an abortion debate or there will be no open and honest dialogue.